A 14-inch white cross displayed at Indiana state park property has angered a national atheist group--and they want everyone to know.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the Freedom From Religion Foundation last month sent a letter to Department of Natural Resources Director Cameron Clark telling him that a cross attached to a new war veterans memorial statute should be removed from Whitewater Memorial State Park.
"No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity," wrote Rebecca S. Markert, the foundation's attorney.
Markert added that the cross "will send a message that the government only cares about the deaths of Christian soldiers."
The 14-inch, white-painted cross sits at the foot of a 8-foot-tall wooden chainsaw-carved statue. At the top is a bald eagle perched above lettering that says "All gave some; Some gave all." The Indiana state flag adorns one side of the eagle, and a soldier is displayed on the other.
Whitewater Memorial State Park was formed in 1949 and was dedicated to World War II veterans from several counties in Indiana. Veterans' groups and other residents donated money to pay for the carved memorial, Union County Development Corp. president Howard Curry said. No taxpayer funds were used for the carving, which was donated to the park.
Dayle K. Lewis, the sculptor who carved the piece, said he used his chainsaw to carve the cross because that particular section of the statue "was plain and needed something." Lewis also wanted to set the scene of a soldier standing over a grave, making the cross "a natural fit."
"We didn't think this would be a religious thing," he said.
Lewis, who spent at least 90 hours working on the statue, said he was disheartened to read a negative online article posted by an atheist group in which anonymous commenters criticized his work.
"They were talking that it was hideous, the worst sculpture they ever seen; it (the soldier) looked like a farm boy with overalls and a bad haircut," he said. "They were really ripping it."
However, the controversial sculpture also has a number of supporters: a Facebook group called "Keep the Cross Carving at Whitewater Memorial State Park" has more than 800 members, and Bob Napier, a Union County Korean War veteran, said his group sent a petition with 2,000 signatures to the DNR urging the agency to keep the statue where it is.
"We want [the cross] the way it is," said Napier. "We don't want to move it somewhere else, either. We want it to be at the park that is dedicated to veterans. Vets fought for freedom, but they keep taking our freedoms away from us."
"As a veteran myself, I can think of no better place for the cross than at the base of the wooden statue of a soldier, for what better represents the sacrifice made by those brave men and women of our nation: The few, the proud, the ones who gave all," wrote Karl Feaster on the group's Facebook page.
Currently, DNR officials are deciding if they will allow the carving to stay in place near the park headquarters, or if they will sucumb to the demands of an atheist group.